RANGOON — Burma’s much-anticipated foreign-offered mobile telecommunications services are unlikely to be available before August 2014, as negotiations continue over finalizing network operator licenses and related telecoms rules.
“We are in discussions with the government about the draft license and we expect that to complete by the end of this year,” Telenor Myanmar CEO Petter Furberg said during a press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday.
After the license is awarded, Telenor says it will launch its mobile network within eight months, beating the deadline set out by the Burma Government, which also stipulates that awardees have five years to offer voice services across 75 per cent of the country and data services, such as mobile internet, across half of Burma’s terrain.
In June 2013 Naypyidaw announced that Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo won a hotly-contested tender for two 15 year telecommunications licenses. Ooredoo has said it will issue SIM cards just six months after the start date of the forthcoming licenses.
The chance to sell SIM cards and airtime in Burma drew initial interest from over 90 companies—all drawn by the chance to operate in a country where it is thought around 90 per cent of the 50-60 million population does not have mobile network access.
At that stage, the formal license awarding was expected by September, but was subsequently held up by parliamentary debate over Burma’s new Telecommunications Law. And though the measure has since been passed, ongoing negotiations over the related telecoms rules, which were posted on the Ministry of Communications and Technology website on Nov. 4 and are open for public comment until Dec. 2, have also slowed up the license awarding process.
The rules cover issues such as competition in the sector, numbering, and the arrangements around connecting calls and messages between rival networks.
“We are in consultation with the government over regulations and will submit our comments within the timeframe specified by the Government,” CEO Furberg said, declining to comment on what aspects of the regulations Telenor would be raising, as these are currently being discussed internally by the company.
Ooredoo and Telenor will not be the only two foreign companies offering network services in Burma, however, with the Burma government recently soliciting partnership applications from some of the losing bidders in the initial license race.
Asked by The Irrawaddy if Telenor could to be at a competitive disadvantage against any hook-up between current mobile network provider Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT) and its would-be foreign partner, Furberg, clad in Burmese traditional dress, said that “we have always anticipated that this market would have a number of competitors. We welcome competition and are ready to fight for customers in the Myanmar market.”
Telenor announced Tuesday it was seeking Burmese business partners to act as distributors and franchisees once the licenses are granted and operations begin—mainly to sell SIM cards and top-up vouchers—and hopes to have 100,000 retailers within five years of launching its network.
“Telenor is committed to ensuring a widespread retail presence,” said Sharad Mehrotra, Telenor Myanmar’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We are looking for young local entrepreneurs from all over Myanmar,” he added.